The following is a guest post written by lawyer coach Gary Mitchell.
Ah, time. Perhaps the most talked-about asset of lawyers. How do you manage your time? How do you spend, or ‘invest’ your time? These are important questions to ask. If you don’t have an efficient grasp on your time, you will never grow. You will never become more profitable. You will never enjoy the life you desire.
One of the first exercises I have my clients go through is to conduct a time audit. This is where you keep track and record all the time you spend on non-billable, practice-related tasks. The reason for this is to determine which tasks could easily be delegated. Delegated to a paralegal, or assistant. And this exercise is a part of all of my coaching programs, whether they be for junior associates, partners, senior partners, or managing partners.
Yes, this will require some work on your part. But the pay-off will be huge based on experience. Daily, you are doing things that you don’t have to do. My rule of thumb is this. There are three areas that you, and only you can take care of. The first is your client’s work. No one else can do this work for you unless it is lower-level legal work that a junior can take off your plate or a paralegal. My point is this. Be the lawyer! Not the paralegal. Not the assistant. Not the receptionist. The lawyer!
The second area that only you can take care of, is your business development. Sure, firms have tried to hire salespeople to go out and get clients and sell the legal work. But it almost always invariably fails. Clients want to see and know the lawyer who will be serving them. In professional services, you are the product. So, by conducting this time audit, it will become noticeably clear to you which tasks you could and should delegate.
And the third area that should demand your attention, is building and leading the team around you. And that is important no matter if you are in solo practice or building a law firm. You need a team.
Do the math!
Look at how you spend your non-billable (practice-related) time daily. What are you doing? Are you doing things only you can do? Or are you doing some things that can easily be delegated down? You bill out at ___$ per hour, or on a project basis, or on contingency. So, if you are spending time doing anything other than billable work, or tasks focused on business development, growth, or leadership, you are leaving profits on the table. Those tasks can easily be delegated.
I see this time and time again. It is most common in the start-up and early growth stages, but it also happens later in the life cycle of a law practice or firm as well.
Most lawyers think paying someone else to do something is a cost center. Ok, even when it is a cost center, you are paying someone else at a much lower rate than you are billing for your time and services. If you are not delegating, you are leaving profits on the table! Add it up over time. Imagine what that looks like. And you must look at your juniors and paralegals as revenue centers, not cost centers. You are billing out for their time after all. You should be making a profit.
Abraham Lincoln said, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a client.” If you agree with that statement, it follows that you will agree with this, “A person who tries to fill all roles has a fool for a boss.”-Gary Mitchell. You will never get off the treadmill unless you look ahead, plan, and leverage the people on your team today, and expect to bring more people on in the future. This is about maximizing productivity in every role, including your own, allowing you to be the best and most profitable lawyer ever.
Once you have conducted your own time audit, it is time to take the same approach for all your people. Have them conduct time audits in the same way. This should include your junior lawyers if you have them, paralegals, assistants, and clerks. They are all revenue centers and should be focused on tasks that generate more revenue.
I bet your lawyers are doing work that can easily be done by a paralegal or assistant. And it is also likely your paralegals are taking on tasks that could be delegated to assistants. How can I be so certain? Because I see it every day. This is one of the most common areas I see in the loss of profitability; not having the right people doing the right things. Not only does this not serve you well, but it also does not serve your clients well. Inefficiency leaves profits on the table for you and adds fat to the bill for your clients. Not a good model!
About the author:
Gary Mitchell- Entrepreneur Coach & Trainer
With 30 years of communications, political strategy, and entrepreneurial experience, Gary has tailored his coaching practice exclusively to lawyers since 2005. He has accumulated tremendous industry knowledge and insights. He specializes in helping lawyers adopt an entrepreneurial approach and mindset to the Business of Law. Three published books, and hundreds of articles later, Gary continues to educate lawyers on the importance of excelling in the business, not just the practice of law.
Gary can be reached at [email protected]